I must confess that I am a huge fan of the space program. From the launch of Sputnik in 1957, through the moon landing in 1969, and everything that has happened since, the exploration of space has piqued my interest and stirred my imagination.
Certainly the case can be made that the amount of money spent on space exploration might have been better used for local schools, creating jobs and relief for the poor.
I am not persuaded by such rhetoric. This is merely an example of what I call the Judas Principle.
Everyone knows the story. A woman anoints Jesus with a vastly expensive ointment. Judas immediately protests, saying the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor.
But Jesus will have none of it. In what may be his most misunderstood saying, Jesus reminds Judas – and the rest of us – that poor people are always around us.
These words of Jesus are often used as cynical justification for doing nothing to address the dire financial circumstances that many people face, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Jesus was actually referencing the book of Deuteronomy. In the 15th chapter of that book, we find Moses warning the people of Israel not to neglect the rules of the Sabbath, including the seven-year cycle of debt forgiveness.
Since the poor will always be with you, Moses wrote, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”
Jesus was not telling Judas to ignore the poor; in fact the opposite is true. Jesus was reminding Judas that the poor should have already been taken care of.
If they are not, it is not the fault of a generous follower but rather the failure of a community.
For Moses and Jesus, the presence of poverty should create compassion not resentment.
That brings us back to the space program. Our country has the wealth both to provide meaningful assistance for our needy neighbors and to explore the depths of the universe.
Not only can we do both, but we should. The question is do we have the will.
The occasion of John Glenn’s 50th anniversary as the first person to orbit the Earth multiple times prompted my thinking about all this. Glenn, of course, leveraged his fame as an astronaut into the United States Senate.
I have not always agreed with his political actions, but I am forever grateful for his courage to literally go where no one had gone before.
When he managed to hitch a ride on the Space Shuttle at the spry age of 77, I couldn’t help but celebrate.
Like I said to begin with, I’m a fan.
There is something innate in the human spirit that drives us to reach beyond the boundaries that contain us.
Whether those boundaries are political oppression, racial prejudice, vast stormy oceans or something as mysterious as gravity, humans long to reach beyond themselves to unknown possibilities that lie ahead, maybe just out of reach – for the moment.
This drive to press the limits of our existence is God given, I believe.
And when there are those among us who actually overcome the obstacles, cross the oceans, break the bonds of gravity or whatever bonds that restrain us, it is the responsibility of the boundary-bound to celebrate and give thanks. The courage of a few has the potential to give courage to the rest of us.
And as the famous hymn goes, “Grant us courage, Lord, for the living of this hour.”